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All that is left of developer Peter N. Snyder's vision of what the lower San Gabriel Valley might become is an ornate building that city officials hope to make into a centerpiece for renewal along Atlantic Boulevard. : El Encanto: Land Rush Monument : Dream Lived and Died

May 01, 1988|BERKLEY HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

Sixty-five years ago, when Monterey Park was an infant of a city, many of its 6,000 residents lived on chicken or vegetable farms and worked in orange and walnut groves.

Developer Peter N. Snyder had a vision of what the lower San Gabriel Valley might become.

The rolling hills south of Garvey Avenue and west of what was known as Coyote Pass were too steep and too barren to farm. But Snyder thought they would be a fine place to fashion an elegant neighborhood with hundreds of Spanish- and Mediterranean-style homes, as good as or better than the ones he had built to accommodate the burgeoning population of East Los Angeles.

Snyder's grand plans for the 356-acre Midwick View Estates foundered after the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression. It is unclear exactly how many houses were built, but local historians estimate no more than a dozen.

All that is left of his dream is an ornate two-story building called El Encanto, which served as the project's headquarters, and the city's landmark Cascades, a waterfall-like terrace of pools.

Centerpiece for Renewal

To preserve the slice of history embodied in El Encanto, Monterey Park, with the help of the state Office of Historic Preservation, bought Snyder's old real estate office in 1987. City officials hope to restore El Encanto, improve the waterfall and make the area a centerpiece for renewal along Atlantic Boulevard.

As part of that effort, the city plans to nominate El Encanto for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. And the City Council has approved the hiring of Martin Eli Weil, a Los Angeles restoration architect who in his proposal to assist the city called El Encanto "a most impressive and important cultural landmark."

Although the structure seems like a faded remnant, it retains many original details. Outside, Spanish galleons sail the high seas in mosaic tile of oranges, blues and browns against the stucco background. A stone frog holds forth in a tile fountain that doesn't work. Atop the roof, whose tiles are in disarray, there remains an unlit neon sign spelling out El Encanto. Inside, the hand-carved, exposed roof beams are intact, as are ironwork railings and a large fireplace in the main entry room.

Community Center

Now the challenge is to raise city and private funds to restore the building, said Leslie Anderson Little, the city's development services administrator. The city is renting out several apartments in the building. Once restored, it could serve as a community center for performances and art shows, offices of organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce or professional office space.

Much research needs to be done, Little said, to determine more about the building and about Snyder, a Greek immigrant.

With its red tile roof and four arched front doorways, the coffee-colored, stucco El Encanto was built in a style referred to as Mexican or Spanish Revival.

El Encanto's importance, historians say, stems from its role in land development in Monterey Park, today a community of more than 62,000 residents who are grappling with Snyder's legacy--the issue of growth.

State preservationists consider El Encanto a significant structure in Southern California and probably the most important building in the history of a city incorporated 72 years ago.

"It's part of the development history of California," said Marion Mitchell-Wilson of the Office of Historic Preservation in Sacramento. "It's part of the context of how California was marketed to the East as this kind of paradise."

Just as parks were built around railroad stations and orange crates pictured idyllic California scenes for viewing back East, she said, so were elaborate structures built as centerpieces for land developments as a way to impress Eastern newcomers.

El Encanto's name itself suggests Snyder's marketing style. In Spanish, encanto means "enchantment, charm, spell or delight."

With offices in Fullerton, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena and Alhambra, Snyder had launched full-scale promotion of Midwick View Estates in the spring of 1928, before a single house had been built or the June 11 ground-breaking was held.

A biplane with "Midwick View Estates" lettered on it flew over Los Angeles daily, and a four-note siren blast alerted those on the ground to look skyward. Radio and newspaper ads promoted the development in what was then called Golden Gate Hills.

Near Tire Plant

Newspaper stories touted the project, which was to line both sides of Atlantic Boulevard for nearly a mile. The Pacific-Goodrich tire plant, according to a June 15, 1928, article in the Monterey Park Progress, "will be but a brisk 15-minute walk--five minutes by automobile" from Midwick View Estates.

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